Introduction We investigated whether media coverage of an outbreak of high-level azithromycin resistant gonorrhoea in England, dubbed ‘super gonorrhoea’, affected online searches nationally, and attendances and gonorrhoea testing and diagnoses at sexual health clinics (SHCs) in affected areas.
Methods Google Trends was used to determine Relative Search Interest (RSI) for ‘gonorrh*’ and ‘super gonorrh*’ in England from 2015 – 2016. Using data from England’s national STI surveillance system, an interrupted time series analysis was performed to compare the sex-stratified, weekly rates of attendances, and gonorrhoea testing and diagnoses at 6 SHCs in Leeds and in five other affected areas. The analysis compared rates of events 6 weeks before and after initial media coverage of the outbreak in September 2015.
Results The RSI peaked during initial media coverage in September 2015 with smaller peaks coinciding with subsequent coverage. The number of SHC attendances by women in Leeds rose after initial coverage (p<0.01) by 36% (from 320 to 435/week), but there was only a 4% increase in attendances (from 326 to 340/week) by men (p=0.70). There was no change in rates of gonorrhoea tests or diagnoses in women (p=0.87 and 0.23) or men (p=0.51 and p=1.00). There were no significant increases in event rates in five other areas with a high RSI.
Discussion We demonstrate that media coverage can impact health-seeking behaviours during high-profile outbreaks. Further research is needed to inform how best to target these messages to those most likely to benefit from attending and being tested in SHCs.
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